IS THE HEBREW MASORETIC TEXT UNCERTAIN
By Bobby Adams, Th.D.
The Views of Scholar-Skeptics About Text History
There are three periods in the textual transmission reflected in the textual evidence of the Hebrew manuscript (ms) tradition. Respectively, they are as follows: the first period in the textual transmission of the Hebrew mss has uncertain origins. According to Tov, “its beginning is not clear, since it is not known when it (MT) came into being, its end coincides with the destruction of the Second Temple” (Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 29). The witnesses from Qumran were copied between 250 BC-68AD. These Hebrew witnesses are characterized by internal differences, Tov says. Further, he continues on page 30, that “such differences already existed between the various textual witnesses at an early stage.”
The second period of transmission with a “relatively large amount of textual consistency, extends from the destruction of the Second Temple until the eight century” (68AD-8th century AD). During this period the Hebrew texts in the Masoretic tradition diminished textual variations. Finally, the “third period of transmission, characterized by almost complete textual unity, extends from the eighth century until the Middle Ages” (Tov, 30). Tov, on page 35, informs his readers that the oldest (Aleppo Text 925 AD) or the earliest Masoretic mss extant is from the ninth century. Thus they are dated from early Middle Ages (until about 1100 and later mss). “In all aspects the early mss are more reliable” (Tov, ibid).
Results of the Views of Scholar-Skeptics
Thus far, a number of things surface:
*we do not possess the “originals”,
*the earliest history of the MT is uncertain,
*mistakes were in the earliest witnesses extant,
*scholars prefer the “oldest mss” because they are “the best”.
Even some scholar skeptics admit to a problem of corruption of some texts by heretics.
It is believed that the oldest is the best despite statements by Tischendorf: “I have no doubt that in the very earliest ages after our Holy Scriptures were written, and before the authority of the Church protected them, willful alterations, and especially additions, were made in them,’ (English N.T., 1869, Introd. p. xv). Scrivener says, “Besides the undersigned and, to a great extent, unavoidable differences subsisting between manuscripts of the New Testament within a century of its being written, the willful corruptions introduced by heretics soon became a cause of loud complaint in the primitive ages of the Church” (A Plain Introduction To New Testament Textual Criticism 4th Edition, 1894, Vol. II, 259). One more quote from yet another critic of the past: Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History), citing Clement of Alexandria: "The worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected originated within one hundred years after it was composed."
Scholars may concede Masoretic-Text accuracy, yet refuse to accept autograph preservation
*And finally, despite the differences present they have diminished greatly, so much so that the Masoretes are praised for their accuracy and we have reliable witnesses; but scholars all agree that “no textual source contains what could be called ‘the biblical text,’” (Tov, ibid, 2). For they merely “shed light on the witnesses to the biblical text, hence their name ‘textual witnesses.’” All of these “textual witnesses” differ to a greater or lesser extent from each other. “Similar discrepancies between the various ancient witnesses are even reflected in modern translations” (Tov, ibid). In part this is what Harold Scanlin took up in his book, The Dead Sea Scrolls & Modern Translations of the Old Testament.
The Type of Results Produced by Skeptical Views
The following is but one example of different ancient witnesses reflected in modern translations:
MT (Gen. 49:10) ‘aḏ ki-yabo shi loh until comes shiloh
THE SEPTUAGINT WITH APOCRYPHA: GREEK AND ENGLISH ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτῷ heós an elthn ta apokeimai auto “until there come the things stored up for him”
KJB “until Shiloh come” (It seems that the KJB is the only one agreeing with the MT.)
NRSV, NEB “So long as tribute is brought to him”
NIV “until there come the things stored up for him”
This writer, sad to say, was not able to locate the Torah Dead Sea Scrolls online in time for this article.
ANALYTICAL KEY TO THE OLD TESTAMENT “until he comes to whom it belongs” NJPST (The New Jewish Publication Society Translation) ש ל ל (Blue is the Qere or
Keri reading or what has been written in the margin. The underlined word is an alternative spelling of Shiloh which is a cryptogram for the Messiah-Christ.) ki-ya bo shilwo (<this is the alterative word-variant) shilo “as long as men come to Shiloh” IHEOT (The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament) when he-comes whose-he (interlinear), “until he comes to whom it belongs” (NIV)
The above texts (NRSV, NEB, NIV, NJPST, IHEOT) all destroy the Messianic reference by using a different Hebrew Text with a variant reading. The scholars, in general, do not believe that they are handling the words of God, and they would rid us of the MT along with the KJB if they could. But changing of the words of God is no more finished for the Old Testament any more than they’re through working on the New Testament. Nestle-Aland has just come out with the 28th edition for their Greek New Testament with some 34 changes in the epistles and BHS Hebrew Old Testament are currently working on yet another Hebrew text called the BHQ edition the fifth version with their changes. Theirs, we are told is a “working text” in progress. But the MT, and the KJB are settled texts.
Scholar views change and are not authoritative, but even their views can show movement toward truth
Richard C. Steiner of Revel Graduate School, Yeshiva University, New York, NY in his article on “Poetic Forms in the Masoretic Vocalization and Three Difficult Phrases in Jacob’s Blessing: (Gen 49:3), (Gen 49:4) and (Gen 49:10) ”, comments on the use of the word Shiloh.
He says that even modern scholars have given up on the idea that 'Shiloh' in Genesis 49.10 refers to the location of Shiloh. That idea has pretty much been ruled out, even by modern scholars. So the rendering of the modern Bibles has been rejected even by the modern scholars. Steiner says that scholars are returning to the traditional idea that 'Shiloh' is composed of two words meaning 'Tribute Shall Come to Him', which they regard as an epithet for the Messiah. Like, 'the One to Whom Tribute is due', Steiner says שי means 'tribute', and לה for 'lo' is an ancient spelling for 'to him'. He says that early Jewish writers (Genesis Rabbah, Yalqut Shimeoni) said this text is a plain reference to Messiah receiving tribute in the kingdom, and he says that modern scholars have pretty much come to a consensus that this is true.
Scanlin writes on page 124 (mentioned above), “While the precise meaning ‘two manuscripts of the Masoretic Text’ may not be clear to readers, it does reflect the fact that though there is usually uniformity in the mss of the Masoretic tradition, there are a few textual disagreements among the Masoretic manuscripts. Benjamin Kennicott and J. B. de Rossi, both were working in the latter part of the eighteenth century, published extensive examples of these textual variants.” The point being made here is that there are variants within the MT’s alright; however, they occur in the Ben Asher family which gave birth to the Aleppo and the Leningrad 19A texts. The King James translators used an entirely different Hebrew MT called the Ben Chayim/Daniel Bomberg type of text. Therefore, one should be careful to be very discerning even if a Hebrew text claims to be a Masoretic Text.
Though corruption in Hebrew mss are different than the corruption found in Greek NT mss, that is they do not fall into a nice and neat defined history, they are nonetheless very real as in the example cited above. Though they are subject to fewer corruptions then the NT Greek texts there are more than one might think. Not unlike their Greek counterpart, the Messianic verses have been corrupted as has already been established which were written after the time of Christ. If the reader could examine C. D. Ginsburg’s book, Introduction To The Massoretico-Critical Edition Of The Hebrew Bible, and Harold Scanlin listed earlier, and Emmanuel Tov also listed earlier, it would be seen that corruptions are apparent thus giving rise to modern versions rendering which are very different in many places then our King James Bibles.
Now, let the reader see from one example cited above in Hebrew along with differing versions and the subsequent comments of scholars and judge the evidence. It is this writer’s contention, based on many years of research, that Old Testament textual critics have attacked the Messianic references, as has New Testament textual critics attacked them. These critics have assaulted and “applied the canons of textual criticism to the OT to question the veracity of the MT” (Thomas M. Strouse, ‘Old Testament passages as Examples of Doctrines Changed by Textual Alterations’, 153 of Thou Shalt Keep Them Kent Brandenburg, Editor, 2003, 2007). No, the Masoretic Text is not uncertain. Even Tov admits in his book that the majority of Hebrew manuscripts at Qumran are 'proto-Masoretic', which indicates that the Masoretic text-type was recognized even then as authoritative. To be sure the scholars’ texts may have uncertain origins and readings, but the Bomberg MT is far from being uncertain.